Books VS Football: An Outsiders’ View


Above the city you could hear the roar; I couldn’t help but hear England’s win against Colombia. There were crowds outside pubs and opposite me even the supposedly sophisticated cocktail bar had lugged a screen onto its terrace. It was as if the whole city was watching the football on this hot summer night.

I wasn’t.

I’d just been to get the sign-off on my healed eyesight, and had drops in, so I couldn’t read or watch TV. Not that I’d have been watching the football; I’d have been reading the fourth volume of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose quintet. Not one single member of my family had ever expressed any kind of interest in sport. My school did not allow a choice of football but rugby only, and cricket was of course compulsory. I defaulted to books from the earliest age, and still do. Whether you’re waiting in a hospital or a post office books calm you down.

I was 12 when we won the World Cup, and I don’t remember a thing about it. I vaguely knew we were playing something important and then we’d won, but that’s all. I was probably at the library.

To be honest football looks kind of fun if you were in the arena-thing watching, although my mate Paco says he was penned inside a chicken-wire enclosure in Spain, and was most put out; the animated ads running around the edges of the pitch must put players off. They put me off. I get confused about penalties but the whole thing is generally quite involving. I wouldn’t sit in front of a telly to watch it, though. I’d go for the counter-programming; the history of art or something.

And then everyone thinks you’re being a snob – but I’m not, I’m just not especially interested in football, and more interested in, say, cinema or theatre. Given the price of ringside (wait, that’s boxing) seats football actually seems a lot more expensive than going to the Old Vic to see Ibsen.

But I like the fact that it’s a communal activity; I think reading is probably seen as isolating and a bit selfish.

The international teams are all jumbled up with each other’s players, so having an international competition seems ridiculous now, and the Americans play a version in which they dress up as if they’re going to the moon or something, after which they spend years remembering the crucial pass they missed, according to old movies.

Plus I do object when taxi drivers and barbers automatically assume I’m watching the football. I know about matches because I read the papers, but I can’t hold a conversation on the subject because I’ll get found out in seconds. A friend of mine blew his cover when he described one player’s manoeuvres as ‘utterly delightful’, not a phrase you hear much on a cabbie’s tongue.

The reverse is even more true. Books, it turns out, frighten many people. They feel unable to have a discussion about them, and apologise for what they read when they should be proud for reading at all. Books are more egalitarian than non-readers realise. We don’t care whether you read Harry Potter or Proust, you’re reading and enjoying it, and that’s all that matters. I suppose it’s like supporting Crystal Palace or Charlton; you’re enjoying the game.

Just try to keep it down a bit; I’m on a really good chapter.

18 comments on “Books VS Football: An Outsiders’ View”

  1. David Ronaldson says:

    I manage to combine the love of sport with the love of reading. I suspect I may usually be the only person at West Ham’s stadium to be reading a novel during the half time interval.

  2. Roger says:

    Many [twenty; twenty five?] years ago I watched a whole football match (France vs Brazil, I think. Or Brazil vs. France, if that’s different) I enjoyed watching. I had no choice – I was seeing a long-lost friend and the match was on the pub’s TV. The players were athletic and graceful and astonishingly skilled and ‘utterly delightful’ were exactly the words to describe it.
    I can’t remember who the teams were in the next game I started watching, but ‘utterly delightful’ didn’t apply.

  3. Richard Burton says:

    Admin, are you sure you didn’t enjoy cricket? It’s like fishing, just an excuse to sit in the sun and perform minimal physical activity.
    I used to be a football fan, but that was pre-Premiership and big money. I was a Palace fan too, so the years of quiet despair probably didn’t help.
    I did watch the game last night, but it left me feeling like I’d just watched an under-twelves match at a school for the entitled. Bit horrified to be honest, probably won’t watch any of the other games.

  4. Jo W says:

    I didn’t watch the match last night,I was too busy reading. It’s simple enough to hear the result through the open windows around here.
    Don’t misunderstand, I like football,but not this sort. I prefer games in the lower divisions and even a good park match. There you still see enthusiasm.
    Signed a lifelong follower of Millwall. No one likes us!

  5. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Watching my kids play AYS0 “soccer” in America was fun. Here in Edinburgh to visit grandchildren I enjoyed the match with the family here. Oh and I picked up Hall of Mirrors at Waterstones yesterday (and two Adventure Time graphic novels for the kids)!

  6. Ken Mann says:

    Actual reading may be private, but “having read” is a communal activity.

  7. Brooke says:

    Books vs football– the public purse isn’t robbed for readers as it is with football. It took a week for our city to clean up the mess after the local football (US version) team won the championship– broken windows, looting, street lamps smashed, cars overturned, trash covering the major streets– translate overtime pay for police, riot squad (yes, the mayor had to call them), sanitation and utility crews. And then we had to celebrate with a parade –another three days of publicly financed clean-up.

    Books– a couple of tea bags, some crumbs or chips; nothing that a hoover can’t fix in 10 minutes.

  8. Ian Luck says:

    I had something really important to do other than follow last night’s game. What was it? Anything. Anything is of far more importance than any game. Especially football.

  9. Debra Matheney says:

    Patrick Melrose over football? You bet! Fascinating works. The series with Cumberbatch is equally harrowing to watch, quite cringe worthy. Speaking of cringe worthy, just finished watching A Very English Scandal with my husband. I’d read the book:he hadn’t. Both Melrose and Thorpe are ridiculously pathetic but sympathetic characters. I find myself laughing out loud at the same time I am deeply sad. I’d take a great story over sport any time.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Reading a novel during the half time interval. Sounds like a good balance to me. Watching a game with friends, at a pub, say, is great, circulation improving, heart uplifting even if your team loses. On the other hand American football and the slightly modified version played in Canada is boring. There isn’t even a goal keeper to give you those “woow” moments as the ball comes sailing toward the net. After the disastrous riot we had here after a hockey final a few years ago I certainly can’t hold up innocent hands, but we do have fewer violent incidents and none connected with any form of football.
    My husband and I watch the younger hockey players, the ones still playing hard.
    On the other other hand the number of books passing through our house is quite satisfying, although this last year has been exceptional since Ken has spent so much time in hospital and I have found walking difficult. Reading is just fine, thank you. And that’s another thing. Reading lasts. You can blow out your knees and have to give up football, but you can always read. Even if you lose your sight there are still audio books.
    And I was not overly pleased with the English team. they were under better control than Colombia but they do need to be reminded that it is not a contact sport.
    Thank you for your patience and it’s only a few more days till normalcy will resume.

  11. Denise Treadwell says:

    I don’t think football has stopped me reading. I can’t think of anything that has stopped me except childbirth. I have even while cooking. I once read the gory ‘ Interview With A Vampire ‘ while cutting up meat. I don’t see watching England playing in the world cup is a very large interruption to my reading schedule. I vaguely remember England winning the world cup, but I don’t remember what I was doing.
    And as for dirty revellers after winning games, I don’t see why they can’t clean up after themselves. When I first came here ( U.S.) in the late 70s , you saw Keep America Beautiful
    everywhere and the streets were spotless, now they are filthy. What has happened?

  12. Helen Martin says:

    Denise – they’re making America great instead. I liked the way the Japanese fans cleaned up in the stands after they had a bit of a melt down. I can watch these games because the last one of the day is at 11am. It’s convenient.

  13. Denise Treadwell says:

    Mr Chris ear plugs and blinds might be a good idea!

  14. Denise Treadwell says:

    Helen, are you on facebook? I challenge you to friend me!

  15. John Griffin says:

    I’m an avid rugby fan. So I had a supermarket almost completely to myself at 7.45pm. No drooling dements propped up by trolleys, no lost zombies, no screaming kids, no granny perfume, empty checkouts with happy-to-chat cashiers……………a blissful shop for basics.

  16. Jan says:

    Well whilst I was sat in the air conditioned entrance to Dorch Co Op today (the only cool spot in the county) I got chatting to a very elderly gent who told me he had attended every England match in 1966 including the final. He missed his last train home that night and kipped on Waterloo Station.

    He’s pretty certain we’ll get past Sweden but not 100% confident we’ll make the final.

    I watched the 66 final on telly at home with my family. I was 10.
    I can remember it proper clearly. I knew it meant a real lot to everyone in our town and – as far I knew – everyone in the country.

    It does matter a lot to an awful lot of folk. Old boys had their beds wheeled into the day room to watch that match on the big tv at work on Tuesday night. There was flag waving, moaning + groaning. Plus a fair bit of snoozing into extra time. This is one of those rare occasions that pull us all together. A shared experience a “binding” time which unites the nation. Lots of kids are really caught up in this tournament the England team are hero’s to today’s 10 year olds. Just like the 1966 team were to us back then

    Don’t get me wrong there’s a flip side to all this fervour. I have been on the wrong side of it a few times when tournaments ended in England’s premature exit but let’s hope for a more peaceful ending this time round. However and whenever it ends for us!
    Come on England!

  17. Wayne Mook says:

    As a reader and an all round sports fan, it’s also Wimbledon don’tcha know.

    On the world cup the feeling this year is different, the expectations are not idiotic, we are not worst detritus in the canal or the paragon of sporting beauty and prowess. Most people thought we were good enough to make the quarter finals, anything more is a bonus, failure would have been not getting out the group stages. It’s been nice to hear the majority of fans be reasonable about England, personally I think it’s the demise of the red tops, notice there are fewer adverts for them on TV?

    Still I am an avid reader too and did read while watching the game at some points. Watching and listening for me is a joy, I’ve not played for a good few years, apart from kicking a ball with my 6 year old daughter.

    There are some splendid books on football, the best are not really about football, father and son relationships are the one of the main themes, like Fever Pitch, although it’s as much about obsession and class.

    My own tip for a football related book is ‘Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular’ by Graham Joyce, a lovely writer who represented England in a Writers’ World Cup in Florence in goal at the age of 52, the exploits of which are the basis for this book and find out the medical uses of WD-40.

    In other news the Trump baby inflatable has been given permission to fly in London.


  18. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, it’s Wimbledom, but they have to get rid of the flying ants first. Can’t have ants in the strawberries, doncha know? Those ants are big bruisers. Had an experience with them the first year up the Coast. a nightmare in literal truth.

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